Importance of Early Socialization

Recently I’ve had a couple of 15 or 16 week old pups come to my Puppy Kindergarten classes — the class is open to pups from 10 wks to 16 wks. In both instances the owners had “kept them home” until they received their second round of shots.

Unfortunately puppies have a developmental window that is just about closed at 16 weeks and what I’m finding is that these puppies are scared of EVERYTHING! While there may be a genetic factor, and it’s possible they are going through a fear period, there is no doubt in my mind that the lack of exposure to a variety of stimuli has severely retarded their social and emotional development.

So what do you do when you have a 35 lb. lab or doberman puppy that’s scared of the 6 lb. cockapoo, not to mention the other puppies? Here’s what I’ve done, that has brought some success:

First of all do NOT over face the puppy. Don’t let the owner coddle them either. Instead the owner should be encouraged to engage the puppy with treats or toys while observing the rest of the class from a little bit of a distance. After the class has been in session for about 10 minutes I do a first round of introductions. I have 2 puppies meet at a cone in the middle of the room (handlers using a food lure at the puppy’s nose to get them to walk to the cone). Once at the cone I say “let them meet” at which time the puppies (on leash – which must be kept loose) get to sniff one another for 3 seconds. Then I ask the owners to return to their chairs, again with food at their puppy’s nose. I select the quietest puppy to meet the shy one. Often the first meeting with the shy puppy is a non-meeting, but we try.

Then we continue on with class. All the while all the puppies are scoping out their neighbors. For the next round of puppy play I divide the group by size & play style, if needed. As I do this I gate off the scared puppy and let him be “off leash” in his safe haven, so he can watch the others play. Based on how that scared puppy is acting I will determine whether it’s appropriate to introduce him to one of his classmates. I find limiting the exposure to a single, quiet puppy is helpful. I will have the scared puppy off leash & the classmate on leash, so that I can collect the classmate up quickly if needed.

The socialization process at this point is slow, but once the scared puppy gains confidence with his classmates the changes in class behavior for that puppy can be significant. However, I’m not at all certain that the now more confident puppy will ever have the level of confidence or resilience in new situations that he might have, had he been exposed to more things (in a positive way) earlier in his life.

The lesson to be learned — get young puppies (by 10 weeks) out into puppy safe environments where they can begin to experience the world.

Have fun 🙂



This week one of the students in my puppy kindergarten class asked a good question — Should a puppy have a schedule? To which I answered yes, it can prove to be very helpful. Dog’s like/appreciate structure.

Her next question was — Is there a good resource I can go to, perhaps online, to get an example of a schedule? This question surprised me, only because schedules are kind of a personal thing. What works for me might not work for you. So we had a further discussion that went something like this:

Identify core things that need to be included in the schedule:
Taking the puppy out to go to the bathroom
Feeding the puppy
Training time
Play & exercise time (with family, friends & other dogs)
Sleeping time
Down time for the owner

Ideally all of these elements should be  included into the puppy’s schedule every day, however, from family to family they probably happen at different times of the day and are of varying duration.

If your dog has a schedule he’ll learn to anticipate upcoming events, which can help make life easier for you.

House training — If you take your dog out 1st thing every morning he’ll soon learn to take care of business when the opportunity presents itself. Otherwise he may have to hold it for an indefinite period of time i.e. when it’s again convenient for you to take him out. (If your dog isn’t fully housebroken you would put him back in his crate if he did not take care of business when he had the chance.)

Feeding — Many dogs really look forward to their meals. Knowing when they may be fed is a high point in their day. I swear my last dog could tell time. His evening meal would be at 5:00, if he came into my office at 4:45 I’d say “you have 15 minutes to wait” and sure enough he’d come back 15 minutes later!

Training — By putting training into your daily schedule you’ll actually get around to doing it! How many times have you missed training just because you forgot to plan for it.

Play & exercise — These are great motivators for many dogs. They can easily be incorporated into some training sessions so you can get the benefits of both (multi-tasking!)

Grooming — Whether you groom daily or weekly it should be part of your dog’s schedule. Basic grooming should include: brushing the coat, cleaning teeth, trimming nails, and checking/cleaning ears, in addition to applying any flea/tick preventatives.

Sleep — Most dogs also like to have a usual bedtime. While many dogs sleep while we’re at work or away from home, it’s not the same as bedtime! I’ve actually seen my dog “head to bed” if he thinks we’re up too late.

Downtime for the owner — Especially when dogs are young you need to help them manage their time. Left to their own devices many would “get into stuff” all day long. Instead, when you know you can’t supervise your dog plan for him to have some “quiet time” in his crate. Give him a nice filled Kong to chew on and let him enjoy it, take a short nap, whatever, it will help your puppy realize he can spend quality quiet time by himself.

Hope this was helpful 🙂

Awesome Blog Content Award

Thank you so much to Fluffy Tufts Gang for honoring us with a nomination for:

The Rules for this award are:

ONE: Share something about you, alphabetically!  Just a word or two about you starting with each alphabet letter!

TWO: Nominate worthy bloggers for this award, no limit how many you forward it to.

Here’s our alphabetical list of dog stuff we love:

A = Agility

B= Basic Manners

C = Canine Good Citizen

D = Dancing with my dog

E = Enthusiastic Recalls

F = Flyball

G = Games

H = Heeling

I = Intro to dog sports

J = Jumping

K = Kindergarten puppy training

L = Loose Leash Walking

M = Motivational training

N = Novice Obedience

O = Open Obedience

P = Puppies

Q = Quick responses t cues

R = Rally Obedience

S = Solid stays

T = Therapy dogs

U = Utility Obedience

V = Versatility Achievement

W = Working with my dog

X = eXcellent levels of agility & rally

Y = Yummy dog treats

Z = Zen (doggie style)

Thanks for the honor!

“I have an idea”

I just love it when my dog has an idea. I don’t know why I still find it so novel but I do.

For instance, when Casey’s really bored he may come into my office while I’m working at my computer and go right over to the closet where I keep my hiking boots. He’ll lay down looking at the closet and very quietly start to “talk” to me. As if he’s saying “Please, please, please can we go for a walk?” It doesn’t usually work (if it did he’d be at the door all the time!) but I have to love his initiative.

I’d love it if you’d share with me some of your own dogs’ favorite ideas 🙂


Come to the Rescue of a Rescue

I had a GREAT experience recently!

I met with/helped a woman (I’ll call her Rachel) who’d rescued a 1 yr. old male Newfoundland. The reason she called me, her dog “Spot” wouldn’t stop jumping on her and biting on the leash, so there was NO Loose Leash Walking! The dog “Spot” weighs over 120 lbs. (more than I do). So I was a tad concerned before I got there.

Fortunately Rachel has a fenced yard. When I arrived at the house Spot was outside, looking in — an adorable face! I said we should go out so that I could meet him. Rachel went first and put him on leash (I was watching the interaction). When I first met Spot he very happily jumped up on me 😦 I was mud from head to toe. So the first thing we worked on was developing our Marker (see Positive Reinforcement Training and using a Marker). Once Spot was in tune with (and happy about) the concept of a marker I asked Rachel if she had a VERY sturdy object she could tether Spot to i.e. like a tree, she came back having attached a leash to Spot’s cemented in the ground outside pen — perfect.

To start working on “no jump” I asked Rachel to bring Spot over to the tether and tether him (with a treat of course). As Spot was sitting there bewildered I explained to Rachel that I would approach Spot, but as soon as he would get up or move forward, I would retreat. Until as I approached he held his position — ideally offering a sit, but at the very least, no pressure on the leash. (This is where the marker is so important. It allows you to communicate with the dog “I like that”.)

It took about 3 approaches before Spot didn’t budge, at which point I said an enthusiastic “yes” and gave him a treat. Spot caught on fast and was sitting like it was a life long choice! He is very food motivated!

Next step, Loose Leash Walking (LLW). As soon as Rachel attached the leash for walking and unattached the tether (2 separate leashes) Spot started jumping & tugging on the leash. I said please put him back on the tether (leaving the walking leash attached). The look on Spot’s face when he was reattached to the tether was priceless! He sat bewildered that he was reattached to the pen. When Rachel went back to get him, to try LLW again Spot started to jump, so I told her to back out of his space. Again he was bewildered and sat. I told Rachel to say an enthusiastic “Yes” and toss him a treat. The next time she approached him he held his sit while she untethered him and took hold of the walking leash. It took several tries (each time returning Spot to the tether) before Spot stopped mouthing the leash but within 15 minutes Rachel was walking small circles in the area adjacent to the outdoor pen. Rachel was all smiles — she’d never had such success! The key here is remaining close enough to the tether so that you can immediately reattach the dog if he starts the mouthing or jumping again. You gradually expand your circle and distance from the tether over a series of days, making sure that your dog can be successful — not pushing him too far too fast.

I have to give Rachel a whole lot of credit for her willingness to address Spots issues. She said her fear was that if she gave up on him perhaps a person in Spot’s next home might be mean to him, because of his size and unmannerly behavior. Rachel is truly a responsible dog owner! 🙂

Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 15

TEST 15: REACTION TO CHILDREN (This is not part of the Canine Good Citizen Test)

The dog must be able to work well around all types of populations, including children. The dog’s behavior around children must be evaluated during testing. It is important that during the testing the potential Therapy Dog and the children are not in direct contact. This means the dog can only be observed for a reaction toward children playing, running, or present in general at the testing site. Any negative reaction by the dog will result in automatic failure. Negative reaction means a dog showing signs of aggression.

While your dog cannot show signs of aggression they should also not show over exuberance either. Many a ball happy retriever has suffered during this test. If you don’t have kids of your own perhaps you can recruit some neighbors to help. If not, you might go to a local park.

If your dog remains calm when watching kids play ball, skip rope, or skate by on rollerblades give your dog a big party! Lots of treats for calm behavior. If on the other hand your dog gets excited and wants to join in on the fun or wants to chase them (perhaps with more of a prey drive) you will want to go back to using the same counterconditioning and desensitization techniques we’ve applied previously. Start off at a great enough distance from the kids that your dog is hardly aware of their presence. If your dog remains calm you can gradually get closer to the children. As soon as your dog is “distracted” by the children retreat to a further location, you’ve gotten too close too quickly.

Refer to the write up for TDI Test 5 for a review of how to apply your counterconditioning and desensitization training.

Good luck 🙂

This concludes this series on training for Therapy Dogs International Testing. I hope you found the series helpful.

Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 14

TEST 14: SAY HELLO (This is not part of the Canine Good Citizen Test)

The TDI Certified Evaluator will test the willingness of each dog to visit a person and that the dog can be made readily accessible for petting (i.e., small dogs can be placed on a person’s lap or can be held; medium and larger dogs can sit on a chair or stand close to the patient to be easily reached.)

For a lot of dogs the biggest challenge is remaining calm when in such close proximity to new people. When practicing, if as you approach a new person, seated in a chair or lying in a bed, your dog starts getting excited for the greeting, immediately use your penalty yards (move backwards a good 10 to 15 feet and get your dog’s attention again, repeat as needed). Your dog’s excitement causes him to lose yardage toward the object of his attentions! This is an extremely effective technique for developing some self-control.

Once your dog has arrived at his destination remember that you can keep talking to him to encourage him to hold his sit and remain calm. If you have a small dog and your dog will be placed on a bed, work on a solid “down” stay in that type of setting. Your dog will not need to keep a down stay during the test, but having this as a default exercise will help your dog realize he has another option rather than excitement.

If your dog will be asked to get up on a chair for petting, make sure you practice this as many dogs aren’t used to getting up onto anything except sofas and comfy chairs. A straight backed chair may present a new set of challenges depending on the footing your dog has to jump from as well as his balance on the chair.

Good luck 🙂